Chamonix is quite unique in some of its trails, in particular the 'Balcon' walks; two 'petit' and two 'grand'. They are all beautiful panoramic promenades with an almost constant level of altitude and can be done partially or in their entirety. The 'Petit Balcons' run around the lower valley floor (approx altitude 1200m) and are named "Nord" (north) and "Sud" (south) after their directional compass bearing.
The Petit Balcon Nord
The trail runs from Argentiere to Les Bois, on the north side of the valley and hovers around 200m above the valley floor. You can pick the trail up from Les Chosalets at the entrance to the Grand Montets car park in Argentiere and follow the route back down the valley to Les Bois before continuing on to Chamonix.
Starting point : Entrance to the Grand Montets car park
Duration : 2hr 30mins
Firstly, this walk takes you through pleasant woodland to the beautiful little hamlet of Le Lavancher which enjoys some of the most spectacular views of Mont Blanc and les Aiguilles in the valley. Just before you arrive at the village you will pass through some alpine pastures where cows are happily grazing and an unusual assortment of ducks, geese and other fowl as well as rabbits and hare are all living together in a series on runs and enclosures. Closer inspection will link all the inhabitants with the menu of the restaurant Le Rosebud which has an excellent reputation in the valley. Although not for the squeamish or the vegetarian, at least you know where your dinner’s come from! From Les Lavancher, follow the road up to the top of the village and continue for another 100m to the point where two footpaths branch off. Take the second one (not to Les Tines) which is a wide cross country ski track, descending gently at first through the forest to les Bois, via Cote du Piget. Return to Chamonix either on foot via the footpath along the river Arveyron, or by bus or train from Les Praz.
The Petit Balcon Sud
This is the longer of the balcon trails, running from Argentiere all the way down to Servoz (recommended direction).
Starting point : Bridge by entrance to the Grand Montets car park
Duration : 3hrs
The Petit Balcon Sud holds a fairly steady altitude of around 1250m and is mostly in the forest; however, it still offers some beautiful views of the Aiguilles de Chamonix and of the valley below. You can pick up the trail in Argentiere near the railway bridge on the main road (RN 506) by turning right along the Cheminde la Corne à Bouc (in front of Res Crystal). Once on the trail it begins as a very pleasant stroll through the forest, crossing the Lioutraz couloir (the scene of some huge avalanches in the winter) and continues easily along the side of the railway line. There are one or two areas where the path crosses a zone of fallen rocks where you should not stop or loiter, as rock and stone falls are always a possibility. Once the route has dropped down fairly steeply to Les Tines, you then follow the Chemin du Paradis for 500m along the right bank of L’Arve until the path climbs up on your right opposite the Forge Bridge. It will then take you gently along, in and out of the forest, above the village of Les Praz to Chamonix. The path joins the CD29 footpath from Planpraz (Les Nantes piste in winter) which you can either follow all the way down to the Brevent Gondola and Chamonix; or follow for 150m until you see the path for the Petit Balcon Sud climbing off to the right. From here it is possible to carry on to Les Gaillands, Les Bossons, Les Houches and eventually Servoz, from where it is possible to return to Chamoix by bus or train from each village.